A better alternative to MHA or MPH?
This track may be better suited for international medical graduates who do not succeed in getting a residency but still want to pursue clinical medicine in the US. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) physician assistants (PAs) are formally trained to examine patients, diagnose illnesses, provide treatment and practice medicine under the direction of physician. They also have some interesting facts about physician assistants. According to them the median pay in 2010 was $86,410 per year and the job out-look in 10 years was projected to be 30% which is much faster than average.
The criteria for admission to a Masters program
These are not uniform all over the country but are for most part similar enough. There are 159 ARC-PA (Accreditation Review Commission on Education for Physician Assistant, Inc) accredited entry-level programs all over the US. The list of these programs is available at the ARC site. They all require some pre-requisite course work, which includes some combination of biology, microbiology, anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, and general chemistry, Statistics, psychology or even algebra. Non-medical subjects would be covered under the higher secondary certificate (HSC) while medical subjects like micro, biochem are covered in first year of medical school. Thus, application with a transcript that states the said subjects will strengthen the chances for a medical graduate to be accepted. Some PA programs like the one at Stanford School of medicine even require 3000 hours of direct patient contact before application. A year of internship, which most IMGs complete, may satisfy this criterion also. Also not all schools may allow non US citizens to apply but a preliminary research shows that there is no restriction to foreign applicants to these schools. The final decision is fairly school specific so it may ultimately depend on the admissions committee.
Enrollment to a PA program
Most of the programs also necessitate passing the GRE and/or TOEFL for admission to PA school while some colleges like Hofstra University in NY, Howard University in DC and Oregon Health Science University in Oregon do not require it. The complete list of GRE/TOEFL requirements for admission to PA programs is here. Even though each PA program has slightly different requirements and prerequisites for entry, the application is through Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA) for most programs. This application also needs to be completed by September 1st to meet the admission deadline.
Once enrolled in a PA program, the curriculum lasts for 2 years at the end of which you can appear for Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE). The first year is normally the ‘didactic phase’ while the second year is the ‘clinical phase’. Patient care experiences are encountered in a different clinical facilities (That’s your USCE right there). After passing PANCE applicants can use the PA-C designation.
So how does this method stack up for foreign medical graduates?
For those who are considering Masters track as either a temporizing measure or to enhance your resume, a Masters in PA offer following advantages
- Legitimate reason to stay in US while pursuing degree education
- Building network and connections while obtaining your degree.
- Get US letters of recommendation (LOR) from faculty during training
- US clinical experience is built into the PA training system
- Excellent opportunity to re-enter clinical practice for those with multiple attempts, horrendous scores and those who otherwise have no chance of securing residency.
- Excellent job prospects after completion of training with a decent pay scale.
- Shorter duration than Nursing degree (4 years) or doctoral degree (PhD) as an alternative.
- If you chose to apply for residency, you may enhance your resume, obtain contacts and generally improve your chances or if you chose to forgo residency, you still can work in patient care areas.
- Though no job is less than other, some physicians may harbor a bruised ego from being a physician to a physician assistant.
- Does involve paying tuition and fees, which can be substantial. However, considering you would pay tuition and fees for other masters programs as it is, the point is moot.
Thus in conclusion, there may be a subset of international medical graduates who can benefit tremendously for considering this as an option.